Joe Lupo spent 30 years with Boyd Gaming, most of it at the Borgata in Atlantic City, where he held a variety of senior positions. Lupo joined Hard Rock International in 2017 when he was appointed to lead Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, one of the most profitable casinos in the U.S. He was brought in to run Hard Rock Atlantic City in October 2018, just four months after the opening of the property, and has boosted revenues and cut costs using his extensive knowledge of the Atlantic City market. Lupo spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at his offices in the Hard Rock in July.
GGB: You just celebrated the first anniversary at Hard Rock Atlantic City. You’ve had some bumps along the way, some adjustments. Are you happy with the direction that the property is headed right now?
Joe Lupo: Yes, I’m really happy with the direction. Any time you open up a property, there’s going to be bumps, and Hard Rock worked
really hard to get it up and going, especially so quickly after purchasing the property. It was a lot of hard work for the team, and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for doing it so quickly, and the property looks beautiful. But there’s growing pains that you have, understanding the market and things like that. Obviously, we opened the same day as Ocean, and you have two properties that came into a flat market, from just a pure casino gaming revenue standpoint.
I came on board about eight months ago, late October. And so during that time, we were able to look at the business over the winter. We put some things in place, and now, a couple months ago, we became No. 2 in casino revenue. And to do that before our year anniversary is a great milestone.
You started from scratch, basically, with your database.
That’s probably the toughest thing to do for a property, especially in a high-frequency market, where all the customers have loyalties. They’ve been going to those other properties, and they know the waitresses’ first names and have accumulated points. To draw a customer away from a loyal market is really difficult. But we’re probably gaining more new customers every day than any other property. It really takes time to build that database, and while we’re getting customers in, they’re still getting offers, and they might be staying at other properties, and we’re only seeing a part of their play.
You worked at the Borgata for a lot of years. What kind of advantage did that bring you when you came to Hard Rock Atlantic City?
Well, I know the market pretty well, that’s for sure. Coming from the No. 1 property across town for so long, we worked hard over there to figure it out. One of the things that we do here is that we develop all of our own promotions and look at our reinvestment. Everything about this property is done from a couple of offices. There is no direction from a corporation that says, “Do it this way.” There’s no team from Las Vegas, that are saying, “We should do this.”
We have some great team members from other properties, from Caesars, from Golden Nugget, from Borgata, that are giving us some other ideas. So we’re just taking a very aggressive approach. We realize we have to do that with a limited database. But, again, being in town, the entertainment aspect that obviously we had at Borgata, there was a lot of entertainment here. And having the biggest room in town gives us a big advantage over everybody.
Hard Rock has a unique corporate culture. After a year, how much do your team members get the Hard Rock philosophy?
It is unique, and I think we’re jelling. I don’t think we’re there yet, to be honest with you. I think it’s good that we have a lot of different perspectives from a lot of different entities. The same thing happened at the Borgata. We need to keep working at it. I think teamwork in the end will make us click.
As you come into the shoulder season, what are you doing to maintain the momentum you’re building this summer?
We have the biggest promotion this summer; we’re giving away a $1 million to one person. And that’s coming off our car-a-day in May. Who gives away a car every single day? But we guarantee that, and we’re really trying to raise the eyebrows.
What does it mean that your chairman, Jim Allen, is a native of the Atlantic City area?
Well, it’s not only Jim, but our other partners and owners are from New Jersey—Jack Morris, and Michael and Joe Jingoli. They’re very community-driven. I think the city needs to come together a little bit, and we need to work together, and we’re starting to do that with the North Beach initiative—Ocean, Resorts, Steel Pier, the Absecon Lighthouse and us and the Tennessee Avenue folks—who are revitalizing that street.
We’re trying to highlight the excitement that you find at this part of the Boardwalk. Overall, we need to ensure that we work together, create more infrastructure, organization and safety—and a clean city I think is really important.